The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 02, 2021 1:00 am

County won't keep mask mandate

'Pandemic is not over'; safe precautions, shots urged


Allen County's top health official wants area residents to keep doing what they've been doing to combat COVID-19.

Dr. Matthew Sutter, county health commissioner, said Thursday he won't impose mandatory mask-wearing in the county when the statewide mask mandate becomes an advisory Tuesday.

But some things won't change, he and other local officials stressed Thursday during a news conference at Citizens Square.

All county and city offices will continue to require employees and visitors to wear masks. Face coverings also will continue to be required in state offices, schools and vaccine and testing sites. Private businesses and offices also may continue to require masks.

And residents should continue to practice social distancing and hand-sanitizing, stay home when they're sick and get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

Sutter said he would reimpose restrictions if cases and hospitalizations spike. The latest directives from Gov. Eric Holcomb give local officials that option.

“We're at a much, much better place than we were in November,” he said. “But the pandemic is not over.”

Sutter said the number of those older than 65 being vaccinated is heartening because seniors have borne the brunt of severe illness, hospitalizations and death.

“And my take is that even if we see a huge surge at this point, I don't think we will completely overwhelm the hospitals,” he added.

That is why he took the option of not imposing a broad, countywide mandate. But Sutter said cases have risen in recent weeks, and spring break and the Easter holiday might lead to more cases.

On Thursday, Allen County reported 79 new cases, bringing the county's total to 37,976. No new deaths were reported, leaving the total at 663.

If the county rises to the orange category – the second-most serious in the state's color-coded system – “with a significant increase in hospitalizations,” Sutter would consider reinstating restrictions.

Sutter would also do that and put “other restrictions” in place if the county goes back into red, the most serious category, he said.

Sutter marshaled a group of community officials to add weight to his message.

Mayor Tom Henry said he intends to continue the mask mandate in city buildings “at least until July 4,” when employees who have been working remotely or on hybrid schedules will return.

If the pandemic worsens or gets better, that measure will be reconsidered, he said.

“If things continue to go well, there will be a real reason for the celebration of independence,” Henry said, adding that the time should allow for widespread vaccination.

Others who spoke during the news conference included Allen County Commissioner Therese Brown, the Rev. Luther Whitfield, East Allen County Schools Superintendent Marilyn Hissong, Tin Caps President Mike Nutter and James Kahn of the Hoppy Gnome, Proximo and Baker Street, who represented the restaurant industry.

Speaking in Spanish, Herb Hernandez of the Greater Fort Wayne Hispanic Chamber of Commerce urged residents to get vaccinated. 

On Thursday, Allen County was in the yellow category, with between 100 and 199 new cases a week and a seven-day positivity rate of 6%.

Sutter said he did not make the decision not to mandate masks lightly. “I spent some sleepless nights,” he said.

“If this virus has taught me anything, it's that if I think I've understood it, I don't.”

At A Glance

Fully vaccinated residents

Adams: 5,344

Allen: 55,787

DeKalb: 6,535

Huntington: 7,102

Kosciusko: 10,424

LaGrange: 3,738

Noble: 6,543

Steuben: 7,796

Wabash: 5,659

Wells: 4,755

Whitley: 5,967

Source: Indiana State Department of Health

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